Challenging the Rehabilitation of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Pierre-Teilhard-de-Chardin

As the sixtieth anniversary of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s death approaches this April, a renewed interest in his thought has found its way into the popular consciousness. A play praising the life of Teilhard, titled The De Chardin Project, ran from November 20 until December 14 in Toronto, Canada. Additionally, a two-hour biography on Teilhard’s life, tentatively titled The Evolution of Teilhard de Chardin, is scheduled to be released this year. The purpose of this documentary is expressed clearly on The De Chardin Project website: “The time is ripe to introduce Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to a new generation—the man, the paleontologist, the visionary French Jesuit priest, whose relentless effort to reframe his beliefs in the light of evolution led to a paradigm shift in the relationship of science and religion.”

Such praise for Teilhard’s attempt to amalgamate evolutionary thought with theological concepts is justified only to the extent that we see him as a pioneer within a historical context and not as someone whose work has any contemporary relevance. Indeed, there are many approaches that may or may not include evolutionary thought, the majority of which transcend what Teilhard envisioned with respect to the harmony between science, philosophy and theology. For example, the late nuclear physicist and theologian, Ian Barbour, published more recent ground-breaking studies on the relationship between science and religion that stands as a distinct alternative to Teilhard’s own limited, and ultimately outdated, approach. So aside from a relevant historical context, the science and religion interaction has advanced far beyond Teilhard’s thought.

Beyond anniversary preparations, Teilhard has garnished a significant amount of attention in recent years. Those of the “New Age” movement have latched on to many of his ideas, and he has even been dubbed “Father of the New Age Movement.” Pope Benedict XVI, in a homily delivered in 2008, had spoken on the relationship between original sin and evolution, noting that there is no contradiction between the two (excluding atheistic assumptions). This, however, does not mean he supported Teilhard’s views on the issue, despite the claims of some. This past summer, there was an animated controversy within the Church over nuns who supported Teilhard’s notion of “conscious evolution.” Cardinal Gerhard Muller, who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, emphatically stated that such notions stand in stark contrast to Christian revelation and truth. Even Pope Francis’ words have been misconstrued to support Teilhard’s radical notions. As Fr. Dwight Longenecker rightly noted: “The idea that Pope Francis supports all this speculative Gnostic nonsense because he said we must be good stewards of creation is disingenuous and shows the author is either ignorant of Catholic theology or is distorting the pope’s words and intention on purpose.”

Although Teilhard was a geologist and paleontologist, he became the subject of controversy in part for his “scientific theology” or what Teilhardian scholar, David Grummet, has dubbed “evolutionary natural theology.” Teilhard’s views on original sin and consequently many of his works were censured by the Catholic Church throughout his lifetime. Although a number of theologians deny that his writings and thought were heterodox, a closer examination is likely to yield a different conclusion. Regardless of this, many have recently considered him to be a visionary not only for his creative work on the relationship between science and theology but also for the advent and progression of the internet, globalization, eco-theology and contemporary transhumanism. Given the wide interest in these subjects today, it is hardly surprising that contemporary writers are recycling Teilhard’s ideas. Even some prominent theologians have embraced rather uncritically much of Teilhard’s thought. Yet despite his intriguing ideas, his works remain fraught with scientific, theological and philosophical difficulties. If Teilhard’s thought is going to be presented to a new generation, it should be done so in an honest and objective manner.

Wolfgang Smith as Teilhard Critic
Anyone seriously interested in a critical engagement with Teilhard de Chardin ought to study the work of Wolfgang Smith. Smith is the most distinguished critic of Teilhard writing today. He possesses a PhD in mathematics and has written for many years on the intermingling of philosophical, theological and scientific issues. This background provides him with the necessary tools to challenge Teilhard de Chardin’s “scientific theology.” Smith wrote his original critique of Teilhard’s work in 1988. A revised and updated edition was published in 2012 with the title Theistic Evolution: The Teilhardian Heresy.

The most prominent Teilhardian scholars, such as David Grumett, John Haught, Kathleen Duffy, Ursula King and Thomas Berry, have largely ignored Smith’s critique. Their silence is deafening since scholars are expected to engage with their academic critics. Are they silent because they do not have an adequate response? Even though Teilhard had contemporary critics, like Dietrich von Hildebrand and Jacques Maritain, none have been as thorough as Smith. Yet, despite this long history of criticism, Teilhard scholars continue to publish articles, books and present papers at conferences. Perhaps public exposure to Smith’s critique will encourage Teilhard scholars to think more critically about their subject.

Views on Evolution
The problem with Teilhard’s “scientific theology” is not evolution per se but the definition or interpretation of such a term and its application to Christian theology. According to Smith, Teilhard artificially rules out God’s intervention and insists that God can only create through evolution. First, Teilhard limits God’s providence by following a deterministic view of physics (entailing a closed universe) without real justification. The science of quantum mechanics was already in existence during Teilhard’s productive years. A view from quantum mechanics would not support a neatly fashioned deterministic biosphere as Teilhard envisioned. Nor could a professed Christian assert that the universe is a closed system disallowing outside intervention from God. In his work, Christianity and Evolution, Teilhard implicitly asserts this:

In the earlier conception, God could create, (1) instantaneously, (2) isolated beings, (3) as often as he pleased. We are now beginning to see that creation can have only one object: a universe; that (observed ab intra) creation can be effected only by an evolutive process (of personalizing synthesis); and that it can come into action only once: when ‘absolute’ multiple (which is produced by antithesis to trinitarian unity) is reduced, nothing is left to be united either in God or ‘outside’ God. The recognition that ‘God cannot create except evolutively’ provides a radical solution for our reason to the problem of evil (which is a direct ‘effect’ of evolution), and at the same time explains the manifest and mysterious association of matter and spirit.

Aside from not providing a satisfactory solution to the problem of evil since the problem remains regardless of the process by which God chooses to create, Teilhard does not substantiate his claim that God can only create solely through evolution. Why limit a sovereign God in such a way? Even if God were to solely create through evolution, there is no reason to think that he could still not be intimately involved in the process, perhaps acting at the quantum level leaving such an involvement perhaps ambiguous.

It is clear that Teilhard has an agenda to reconstruct the traditional conception of God, one in which eventually even God must bow down to the process of evolution and goes from being the evolver to part of the evolved. Teilhard attempts to do this through the use of science but of course science cannot fully adjudicate such overarching metaphysical and theological issues. At best science can lead us in a particular direction when incorporated in an overall philosophical argument, but not solely on its own since by definition it would cease to be a “scientific” explanation.

Teilhard has also a peculiar vision of Christ in lieu of his views on evolution. He sees Christ as an evolving Christ, much as his vision of God becoming part of the evolutionary process. Christ is dependent upon the cosmogenetic process, as Teilhard intimates himself a month before his own death, in a quote found in The Heart of Matter: “It is Christ, in very truth, who saves—but should we not immediately add that, at the same time, it is Christ who is saved by Evolution?” Teilhard’s views in fact have no place for the Incarnation in the traditional Christian sense since nothing can ultimately enter up in the universe unless through a process of evolution since all is reducible to a cosmic evolution. Teilhard’s metaphysical impositions of evolution on the divine nature are completely heterodox because they overthrow the traditional conception of an eternal transcendental God. Teilhard’s heterodoxy extends beyond God’s nature. He accepts the separation of the soul from the body at death but does not allow for its origin via ex-nihilo through God’s creation but instead through gradual physical evolution.

One wonders why Teilhardian scholars seem to gloss over these aforementioned issues. Perhaps it is because it is more profitable to ignore these theological problems inherent to Teilhard’s work, or reinterpret them in a fashionable way, then to confront them head-on as Smith has done. This legacy began with Henri de Lubac, Teilhard’s friend and great defender. De Lubac fought to dispel the charges made by critics that, for instance, Teilhard denied the existence of a personal God. However, it is important to realize that Teilhard’s thought evolved from an orthodox position with imbedded seeds of doubt to an increasingly heterodox one. For example, in 1950 (only five years prior to his death) he wrote in The Heart of Matter about his earlier writings in The Divine Milieu saying they originated from a “self-centered and self-enclosed period of my interior life.” He goes on to state that:

The reason for this was that by one of those odd effects of inhibition that so often prevent us from recognizing us in the face, I failed to understand that as God “metamorphized” the World from the depths of matter to the peaks of Spirit, so in addition the World must inevitably and to the same degree “endomorphize” God…. All around us, and within our own selves, God is in the process of “changing” as a result of the coincidence of his magnetic power and our own Thought.

This is quite distinct from the view de Lubac had defended of Teilhard’s orthodoxy. It is significant that these statements come very close to his death in 1955. This seems to strongly suggest that Teilhard’s position was solidified at this point, unless he recanted this before his death but we have no evidence to support this. In Teilhard’s estimation, God goes from superintending evolution to becoming part of the process Himself. It is important to emphasize here that Teilhard is not arguing that God is interacting within time which would reveal his immanent capacity as has been explored in the work of some contemporary Christian philosophers but rather that his transcendent nature is “evolving.” One is not entirely sure how such a thing is possible without radically altering the meanings of the terms God and transcendency.

The Law of Complexity and Consciousness
In The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard theorizes that all matter is in the process of becoming spirit through progressive complexification that entails “matter [giving] birth to life, consciousness and thought—in a word, gives birth to ‘spirit.’” Smith emphasizes that the law of complexity and consciousness is the very heart of Teilhard’s “scientific theology”: “the entire edifice rests upon that stipulated Law” and that it is an “empirically verifiable truth” according to Teilhard.

Smith points out that consciousness is not observable in an empirical sense like bodies and behaviours are. Consciousness is solely observable in a subjective sense. We are conscious of ourselves, and others in the world around us, but we are not “conscious of someone else’s consciousness.” Although we may postulate through our empathetic nature what may be going on in someone else’s mind, it raises a significant difficulty for Teilhard to define it “experimentally.” Moreover, complexity as used by Teilhard is not a “well defined parameter” needed to reach scientifically justified results.

There is no way of accounting for consciousness being proportional to the complexity of an organism and Teilhard admits this but for dubious reasons, such as the enormity of the calculations. Smith questions the unwarranted assumption of Teilhard “that some kind of rudimentary consciousness exists even in the simplest of corpuscles.” Where is the evidence that consciousness exists in rocks or protons? As made clear by the question, much of the problem is that Teilhard lacks rigour in distinguishing between complexity and consciousness throughout his writings. The advent of the understanding of functional information can perhaps help with this. Smith points out that it makes no sense to postulate a “specific effect” without a “specific cause.” In an attempt to resolve such a dilemma Teilhard attempts to analogize by “imperceptible” principles used by physicists in the laws of motion and relativity but Smith shows how such an analogy fails, i.e., since what is alluded to in physics by Teilhard can in fact be observed, tested and verified.

An honest scholarly examination of Teilhard would necessarily include an intellectual engagement with critics like Smith. Acknowledgement of Teilhard’s fruits, such as his futuristic allusions to the internet, globalization and elements of his eco-theology, should not be given without recognizing weaknesses in other areas, such as the logical problems regarding evolution and his law of complexity/consciousness that loom large in his “scientific theology.” These problems make it not only incompatible with Christian theism but also as a stand-alone comprehensive view of reality.

Editor’s note: A lengthier but substantially different treatment of this subject by the author was published recently under the title  “Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s Unrelenting Nemesis: Wolfgang Smith and His Trenchant Critique of Teilhard’s ‘Scientific Theology'” in Science et Esprit, 67/1 (2015) 107-120.

Scott Ventureyra

By

Scott Ventureyra is a doctoral candidate in theology at Dominican University College in Ottawa, Canada. He has published in academic journals such as Science et Esprit, The American Journal of Biblical Theology, Studies in Religion and Maritain Studies (the journal of the Canadian Jacques Maritain Association). He has also written for magazines such as Crisis and Convivium and newspapers such as The National Post, City Light News, The Ottawa Citizen and The Times Colonist.

  • Teilhard

    Certain views of Teilhard as expressed in this article have been mischaracterized. A full critique of this article is beyond the scope of this comment. However, it is of the utmost importance to note that the core visions and views of Teilhard de Chardin have been endorsed by the leaders of the Church, including Pope Benedict XVI, St. John Paul II and numerous Bishops. Contrary to the assertions of heterodoxy set forth in the article, in 2009 the spokesman for Pope Benedict XVI (Fr. Federico Lombardi) clearly set forth the position of the Church: “By now, no one would dream of saying that [Teilhard] is a heterodox author who shouldn’t be studied”.

    You correctly state that the prominent theologian Cardinal Henri de Lubac, who was perhaps among the most familiar with Teilhard’s views, asserted a strong defense of Teilhard. As Cardinal de Lubac stated:

    “We need not concern ourselves with a number of detractors of Teilhard, in whom emotion has blunted intelligence”. Cardinal Henri de Lubac, – The Religion of Teilhard de Chardin, p. 15 Image Books (1968).

    The article also fails to address the numerous public statements Pope Benedict XVI made about Teilhard de Chardin’s vision and its compatibility with mainstream Catholicism. The only reference is a cursory conclusion (without explanation) that Pope Benedict’s XVI synthesis of evolution and original sin is somehow different than Teilard’s synthesis. Set forth below are statements made by Pope Benedict XVI, St. John Paul II and others on Teilhard de Chardin. Note that are very minor cautionary statements (e.g. “a not entirely unobjectionable tendency towards the biological approach”), but the thrust of Teilard’s ideas have been fully endorsed by Church leaders:

    1. Pope Benedict XVI on Teilhard’s thought as mainstream Catholicism:

    “It must be regarded as an important service of Teilhard de Chardin’s that he rethought these ideas from the angle of the modern view of the world and, in spite of a not entirely unobjectionable tendency toward the biological approach, nevertheless on the whole grasped them correctly and in any case made them accessible once again. Let us listen to his own words: The human monad “can only be absolutely itself by ceasing to be alone”. In the background is the idea that in the cosmos, alongside the two orders or classes of the infinitely small and the infinitely big, there is a third order, which determines the real drift of evolution, namely, the order of the infinitely complex. It is the real goal of the ascending process of growth or becoming; it reaches a first peak in the genesis of living things and then continues to advance to those highly complex creations that give the cosmos a new center: “Imperceptible and accidental as the position they hold may be in the history of the heavenly bodies, in the last analysis the planets are nothing less than the vital points of the universe. It is through them that the axis now runs, on them is henceforth concentrated the main effort of an evolution aiming principally at the production of large molecules.” The examination of the world by the dynamic criterion of complexity thus signifies “a complete inversion of values. A reversal of the perspective…

    This leads to a further passage in Teilhard de Chardin that is worth quoting in order to give at least some indication here, by means of a few fragmentary excerpts, of his general outlook. “The Universal Energy must be a Thinking Energy if it is not to be less highly evolved than the ends animated by its action. And consequently … the attributes of cosmic value with which it is surrounded in our modern eyes do not affect in the slightest the necessity obliging us to recognize in it a transcendent form of Personality.”

    Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal; Pope Benedict XVI; Benedict; J. R. Foster; Michael J. Miller (2010-06-04). Introduction To Christianity, 2nd Edition (Kindle Locations 2840-2865). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

    2. Pope Benedict XVI on Teilhard’s vision as a central component of the Catholic Eucharist:

    “And so we can now say that the goal of worship and the goal of creation as a whole are one and the same—divinization, a world of freedom and love. But this means that the historical makes its appearance in the cosmic. The cosmos is not a kind of closed building, a stationary container in which history may by chance take place. It is itself movement, from its one beginning to its one end. In a sense, creation is history. Against the background of the modern evolutionary world view, Teilhard de Chardin depicted the cosmos as a process of ascent, a series of unions. From very simple beginnings the path leads to ever greater and more complex unities, in which multiplicity is not abolished but merged into a growing synthesis, leading to the “Noosphere”, in which spirit and its understanding embrace the whole and are blended into a kind of living organism. Invoking the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, Teilhard looks on Christ as the energy that strives toward the Noosphere and finally incorporates everything in its “fullness’. From here Teilhard went on to give a new meaning to Christian worship: the transubstantiated Host is the anticipation of the transformation and divinization of matter in the christological “fullness”. In his view, the Eucharist provides the movement of the cosmos with its direction; it anticipates its goal and at the same time urges it on.”

    Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal; Pope Benedict XVI (2009-06-11). The Spirit of the Liturgy (Kindle Locations 260–270). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

    3. Pope Benedict’s Statement on Teilhard’s Eucharistic Vision

    “It’s the great vision that Teilhard de Chardin also had: At the end we will have a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host.

    “Let’s pray to the Lord that he help us be priests in this sense,” the pope said, “to help in the transformation of the world in adoration of God, beginning with ourselves.”

    — Pope Benedict XVI’s statement at Vespers on July 24, 2009.

    4. Cardinal Avery Dulles on Teilhard’s vision on the Eucharist:

    “In his own poetic style, the French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin liked to meditate on the Eucharist as the firstfruits of the new creation. In an essay called The Monstrance he describes how, kneeling in prayer, he had a sensation that the Host was beginning to grow until at last, through its mysterious expansion, ‘the whole world had become incandescent, had itself become like a single giant Host.’ Although it would probably be incorrect to imagine that the universe will eventually be transubstantiated, Teilhard correctly identified the connection between the Eucharist and the final glorification of the cosmos.”

    Cardinal Dulles’ Speech: “A Eucharistic Church: The Vision of John Paul II” – McGinley Lecture, University, November 10, 2004

    5. Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, writing on on behalf of Pope John Paul II, on Teilhard’s contribution to the New Catholic Evangelization:

    “What our contemporaries will undoubtedly remember, beyond the difficulties of conception and deficiencies of expression in this audacious attempt to reach a synthesis, is the testimomy of the coherent life of a man possessed by Christ in the depths of his soul. He was concerned with honoring both faith and reason, and anticipated the response to John Paul II’s appeal: ‘Be not afraid, open, open wide to Christ the doors of the immense domains of culture, civilization, and progress.

    Letter from Cardinal Casaroli dated May 12, 1981 that was published on the first page of the Vatican Newspaper, l’Osservatore Romano.

    6. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn on Teilhard’s Contribution to Catholic Thought:

    “Hardly anyone else has tried to bring together the knowledge of Christ and the idea of evolution as the scientist (paleontologist) and theologian Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., has done. … His fascinating vision … has represented a great hope, the hope that faith in Christ and a scientific approach to the world can be brought together. … These brief references to Teilhard cannot do justice to his efforts. The fascination which Teilhard de Chardin exercised for an entire generation stemmed from his radical manner of looking at science and Christian faith together.”

    Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, Creation, Evolution, and a Rational Faith, Ignatian Press (2007).

    • Dick Prudlo

      When you get to the Omega Point, send me an email, but not before.

    • Geoff Kiernan West Australia

      Teilhard: You blogged this same nonsense on Catholicism Pure and Simple however under the name William Ockham.
      It seems the penny has not yet dropped.
      You are a child of everything that is wrong with VII

    • GG

      Basically the Teilhard said very little of consequence and it took a long time to say it.

    • Rob

      This leads to a further passage in Teilhard de Chardin that is worth quoting in order to give at least some indication here, by means of a few fragmentary excerpts, of his general outlook. “The Universal Energy must be a Thinking Energy if it is not to be less highly evolved than the ends animated by its action. And consequently … the attributes of cosmic value with which it is surrounded in our modern eyes do not affect in the slightest the necessity obliging us to recognize in it a transcendent form of Personality.”

      So his general outlook is repeating basic truisms, God is greater than His Creation and this cannot be denied, in language far more obfuscatory than that used by the Fathers and Doctors? Sweet, sign me up!

    • fredx2

      the difference is that Teilhard was often speaking poetically. He did not really believe the universe would become one giant pulsating host.

      The LWCR types, however, appear to take him literally.

    • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

      I found reading his books REPULSIVE. He makes my skin crawl. After dabbling in his blather I went to seek out the Psalm 131: 1-3.

    • Joan59

      There is so much to unpack it will take awhile.
      Thank you.

    • TheWhiteLilyBlog

      Yes. They all loved him, every last son, and those who would rehabilitate and contrast Benedict to Francis, many faux traditionalists who focus on the liturgy but not the ruined doctrine, are dangerous to us. And of course, not just the men, but the whole Council. Vatican II’s liberal but unargued premises were evolution and overpopulation. I have been thinking, if only we directed our energy to publicizing just how thoroughly modern science has dismissed both evolution and overpopulation as scientific in any form. Signature in the Cell, for example. The human genome project has destroyed evolution theory at the root. We could affect the coming Synod on the Family, which is likely to split the Church unless we focus our work. What work we can do, from com boxes and perhaps street corners (well, I take TAN books out to bus stops).

  • Dick Prudlo

    This man was a prime contributor in the Piltdown Man hoax. Hardly anyone, but himself, would consider him a man of science.

    • kentgeordie

      According to Wikipedia, what you say is not quite true:
      “In August 1913, Woodward, Dawson and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest and friend of Dawson who had trained as a paleontologist and geologist, began a systematic search of the spoil heaps specifically to find the missing canines. Teilhard soon found a canine that, according to Woodward, fitted the jaw perfectly. A few days later Teilhard moved to France and took no further part in the discoveries.”

      • Dick Prudlo

        Wikipedia, huh? really now that is the final voice. LOL

        • kentgeordie

          Why not comment on the comment, rather than its provenance? If you have some grounds for doubting the Wikipedia entry I’d be glad to hear them.

          • Dick Prudlo

            I did, who can beat a wiki for a source.

  • Louise Riccobene

    I was an undergraduate at a Jesuit College in the early 80s. We were required to take classes on Theology (no requirement that it be Catholic.) I am among the poorly catechized generation that quite possibly could have been very negatively impacted by de Chardin whom we were required to study, but the man was so gosh darn boring and obtuse in his writings that I promptly forgot him the second I handed in my final paper. I remember thinking that “religion” should not be so convoluted. I almost fell asleep just reading some of the quotes above. My interest in reading this article is that my fallen away Uncle is a devotee of his. My uncle is a social scientist with strong interests in geology and paleontology. Thanks for the heads up on the New Age angle, too.

    • GG

      As I read this the comment here from the one supporter of Teilhard I thought of how absurd it is to take so many words to say so little. Talk about the emperor with no clothes.

      • gregory

        Likewise.

    • Captain America

      I’m in your age group. I checked out a PTC title at the local library, took it home, read about a page and half and just chucked it.

      • Martha

        I hope you mean that literally! Some things should not be in print.

  • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

    Teilhard enthusiasts of the 1950’s and 60’s became the ex-seminarians and former priests of the following decades. Almost without fail. I guess they ‘evolved’.

  • kentgeordie

    I share the misgivings voiced in the article, but it does seem that important orthodox voices have been raised in defence of Teilhard.
    I would be glad if one of you boffins could show me that JPII and BXVI did not truly endorse his ideas.

  • ColdStanding

    “It is Christ, in very truth, who saves—but should we not immediately add that, at the same time, it is Christ who is saved by Evolution?”

    Heresy. Persistent public heresy. Plain and simple. His memory should be subjected to the highest possible censure. His works destroyed and his followers removed from office, called to repentance, and recanting of these serious errors. If they persist, then defrocking and excommunication.

    This should be a straight forward process. However, what is the case is that seeking to refute Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is a marker for exclusion. It is, as the Confucians say, a horse that is not a horse. Which means if you say that that which is not a horse is not a horse, you loose your head.

    If one accepts the premise that the Church of Christ “subsists” in the Catholic Church, one is lead to sift the Church (which does not subsist in but is synonymous with the H., R., C., & A. Church) for those elements that are actual Church and those that are accidentally adhered to the Church by accretion through the Church of Christ’s long subsistence in the Catholic Church. Classical philosophy as exemplified by St. Thomas Aquinas is considered, by the modernist heretics, as an accretion.

  • Tamsin

    It is clear that Teilhard has an agenda to reconstruct the traditional conception of God, one in which eventually even God must bow down to the process of evolution and goes from being the evolver to part of the evolved.

    Can we assign Teilhard most closely to pantheism?

    • Michael Wallis

      Or a dustbin?

      • Peter

        Provided contents get taken to the dump.

  • Michael Wallis

    I suffered through an incoherent theology course (early 80s) on Teilhard at Boston College. I regurgitated a ream of meaningless Teilhard speak on the final (and did very nicely). It’s very disappointing that astute observers, like Flannery O’Connor seemed to buy into his jive.

    • hombre111

      I give you this, Michael: Nobody should enter into this discussion who has not read Teilhard. And if you read him in the eighties, you should read him again. I have spent the last couple of years reading Chardin on my Kindle and, at this later point in my life, he makes more sense than ever. Our ever expanding knowledge of physics and cosmology demand such a thing. With each new discovery, God becomes more astonishing and mysterious. For instance, the discovery of the significance of the total vacuum, swept clean of every particle and every trace of energy. In this utter emptiness, reality “foams up” out of nothing and we see God the creator at work. Or buy a poster of the Hubble deep field and look at galaxies thirteen billion light years away, among at least 250 billion galaxies in our universe, with uncountable trillions of stars. The God whose wisdom and power hold all of this together is the God Abraham and Isaac and Moses, with their primitive intuitions of his greatness and majesty, discovered on a dark night. But with galaxies beyond galaxies into what we are sensing as a deeper infinity, you need a scientist/poet like Chardin. Church dignitaries like Cardinal Burke, preoccupied with altar girls, have nothing to offer.

      By the way, have you read Dr. Michael Behe’s “Beyond Creation?” His book gives us some amazing insights into Darwin, what he says about evolution that seem undeniable, and what he says about evolution that has begun to collapse. A great book fun to read. When I was campus minister last time, I attended a speech he gave at my university. The biology and philosophy faculties from two state universities were there to debate him. But because of his own immense scholarship, he was able to respond to every objection.

      • accelerator

        Did de Chardin support alter girls? Quite progressive he.

        • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

          I think you mean ALTAR girls. Altered altar girls is 20 years down the road.

          • FreemenRtrue

            there are probably already transgender altar girls – we are evolving to the Omega point. Satan is laughing.

      • Joan59

        Thank you for sharing these thoughts. Rare to find one who whose mind & heart & soul can soar high enough, above the fences, to see the beauty of different landscapes.
        And thank you for the recommendation for Dr. Behe’s book.

        • RufusChoate

          It is hardly surprising that you have fulsome praise for Hombre111, when your real name is Carolyn Doric and you appear to be rabidly pro-Abortion and far to the irrational side of Leftism.

          I suspect a parishoner flacking for the Padre.

          • Joan59

            You are really despicable aren’t you.
            You don’t know me, you have no right to identify any individual and you will be reporter. You don’t know me, you don’t know anything about my views except what I share in a public venue.
            Allow me to share the favor:
            You are a fascist and a reactionary revenant.
            I could see you rounding up people for punishment.
            I have no doubt you are a rabid misogynist.

            I can see why my words of thanks to Hombre would offend you: you can’t stand the idea that ANY man of faith can also be a compassionate, thinking person capable of deep though, capable of reaching others who may not always share his perspectives.

            You are an inquisitor and a hypocrite.

            • RufusChoate

              You just don’t like the revelation of your moral depravity on a Catholic site that is why you’re so unhinged. I am grinning from ear to ear. Your positions are evil and relevant to your praise of an heterodox poster. Stop playing innocent you’re a big girl so stand up to truth.

          • Joan59

            I am reporting you.

            • RufusChoate

              A little off the wall aren’t going full Stalinist how quaint and retrograde.

              • Joan59

                I reported you to disqus. And I also send a message to Crisis. I don’t care what names you call me. YOU. HAVE. NO. CREDIBILITY.

          • Joan59

            I am not so lucky as to be near a parish with such a priest. I pray God keeps him safe from parishioners like you.

            • RufusChoate

              Too funny, as if we are to believe that a rabid pro-abortion progressive even attends mass regularly.

              • Joan59

                THE ONLY ISSUE YOU HAVE ANY RIGHT TO COMMENT UPON ARE PUBLIC STATEMENT I MAKE IN A PUBLIC FORUM. I WAS NOT DISCUSSING ABORTION WHY ARE YOU OBSESSED?
                MY VIEWS ON ANY ISSUE IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.

                WHERE I PRAY TO GOD IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
                YOU ARE NOT A RECOMMENDATION FOR FAITH, FELLOW.

                • RufusChoate

                  The caps are a tell about how mentally unhinged you are. Do you or do you not support Abortion on demand?

                  • Joan59

                    I will never be silenced by someone like you.

                    • RufusChoate

                      You’ve already have been. I will wager that after this immense effluvia of impotent rage you will slink back to your safe progressive den and stay out of the sun light because it is just too painful.

          • Joan59

            And you got 4 upvotes. What kind of people are you?

            • RufusChoate

              People who don’t rabidly advocate for the murder of children?

              • Joan59

                What a jerk you are.
                How childish you are.

                Don’t YOU rabidly advocate for (fill in the blank).
                It is clear to me you are merely attempting to demean and humiliate anybody who may – or may not – express ANY opinion you don’t like.
                And accuse them of what YOU consider the worst thing in the world.

                • RufusChoate

                  You detail clear your support for Abortion on demand on your facebook page. There are multiple listing of you on pro-Abortion sites. You do you think you fooling?

                  • Joan59

                    What facebook page? How do you identify an anonymous commenter with a particular facebook page?
                    I am reporting you for this too.

          • Joan59

            So why don’t you share YOUR name, and you address, and you phone number, “Rufus?
            Or are you actually a COWARD who attempts to inflict upon others what you won’t endure yourself.
            You think your actions, your words, and your “arguments” are recommendations for your religion? Jesus weeps.

            • RufusChoate

              Carolyn Doric, Progressive democrat of Harrisburg, PA. Hilarity abounds you got nothing but abortion as a moral compass to direct your ire and I suspect a house filled with cats and no man or children because you too progressive for such things.

              • Joan59

                Yes, and I am reporting this, too.
                You are somebody who like to intimidate and threaten others in a public form.

              • Joan59

                I wonder if Crisis MAGAZINE wants commenters top release the name and ADDRESS of commenters.
                Is that the way Jesus would behave?
                Does CRISIS think this recommends their faith to readers?

              • Joan59

                You have been reported for three incidents now.

              • Joan59

                My family and my pets are NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
                YOU ARE A BULLY.

                • RufusChoate

                  See you’re simply not up to the game . So I would quit now and ponder the reality of murdering the innocent with such alacrity and guilt free. .

      • Raguel

        Teilhard was a heretic and so are you if you follow and support him. May God have mercy on the Church.

    • TheWhiteLilyBlog

      Thank you for mentioning O’Connor! I have a post at my blog examining the short story written just before her death that captures Teilhard’s madness, on “Revelation.” You could scroll down and find it, easy, so I won’t put a link. Perhaps you might be interested. Also, Michael, I want to ask, if you were a seminarian then, could you click on the fiction link at my blog and go read “Another Eve”? It’s about the liberal education in seminary of a young Mexican priest, and no priest or seminarian has ever read it and I so wish for feedback, especially on his prayer.

      • Michael Wallis

        No I wasn’t a seminarian, merely an undergrad being served up the Teilhardian hokum. I share your distrust in all things Teilhard. However I am favorably disposed to F’OC as person and artist. The late Marion Montgomery has set out the best case for her in “Why Flannery O’Connor Stayed Home”.

  • Isaac S.

    It seems that Teilhard has followed in the footsteps of the likes of Origen, Tertullian, and Thomas Merton in that he started out as a revolutionary orthodox thinker but at a certain point lost his way. I don’t find any contradiction between the praise he has gotten from Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II and the criticism of him in this column, just as there is no contradiction between praising Merton’s “Seven Storey Mountain” while also condemning the Catholic-Buddhist fusion nonsense from later in his life. I think the tragedy of Telihard’s life shows the great dangers of being a very intelligent thinker trying to forge new ground in theology; the Devil is always there to tempt the theologian to push “just the tiniest bit” outside the realm of orthodoxy. The smarter the thinker the greater their temptation to believe that they’ve truly discovered something that had previously eluded the Church.

    • michael susce

      ” being a very intelligent thinker trying to forge NEW ground in theology ” Being born in the twentieth century we have access to six thousands years of human experience and knowledge and two thousand years of Christianity. We don’t need to discover or forge anything NEW regardless of “our ever expanding knowledge of physics and cosmology ” as stated by Hombre above. This expanding knowledge coincided with the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Nothing of importance has changed. There is nothing new under the Sun. We need to make ourselves NEW creatures in Christ. The only thing new is that we, who are educated have been given much knowledge and we of all people throughout history are without excuse……We know to much….

    • FreemenRtrue

      Malachi Martin does a good brief on Tielhard in “Jesuits”. A man of simple faith may think that Tielhard got waylaid by his own conceit. Pounding theology into an evolutionary framework, thinking it scientific, is very quaint, especially given all the logical flaws in Darwinian evolution as espoused by absolutists. Some commenters have said even Darwin would reject the naïve assertions today of many of his ‘adherents’. If God uses evolution at times, so what? How can a mortal mind restrict the Creator’s creativity and bound the unbounded? Much ado about nothing. I left a parish when a deacon gave a homily citing de Chardin, went for something a little less New Age . Heterodoxy in bishops, cardinals and popes is not a novelty.

    • TheWhiteLilyBlog

      I’m not sure I can agree. The seeds are in Seven Storey Mountain, and the seeds were in Teilhard’s earliest work. One must read for it.

  • Jim Sheridan

    I have read some online articles that have stated that Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen had some very positive things to say about Teilhard in his 1967 book FOOTPRINTS IN A DARKENED FOREST. I have never read this book. Is there anyone here who has read this book and can tell me what he said? Thanks

    • TheWhiteLilyBlog

      Ah, I have been waiting for the flaw to emerge, since Sheen did not call for the transformation of our secular state. That’s the ultimate test of orthodoxy. No philosophy, no economics, no morality can exist in a state that denies God. Pius XI’s insight. He said it was the first justice and no other civic justice was possible without it. And that’s just so right.

      • Paddy

        Absent a second revolution, the USA will be an atheist state for this century. All of us let it happen and half vote the Marxist Democratic Party “religiously”, including lost bishops.

        • TheWhiteLilyBlog

          Oh Paddy I don’t care a fig WHAT happened, I want to know what are we going to do about it? Don’t say Nothing! Don’t!

  • GaudeteMan

    I wonder which popes had him on their library shelves.

    • TheWhiteLilyBlog

      Please see the post above by Teilhard.

  • hombre111

    If you want to read someone who is really out of date, read Thomas Aquinas. And yet, he is worth pondering with a great deal of respect. When I have the time, I open my Kindle and garner some inspiration from the Angelic Doctor. I admit that, when it comes to the power of the written word, Augustine is more stirring fare. Aquinas is an acquired taste for the heady intellectual.

    • ColdStanding

      St. Bonaventure is now much more accessible thanks to the Franciscans translating it into English. I’ve greatly enjoyed spending time with him. Lived at the same time as St. Thomas too.

      • hombre111

        Thanks. I might start reading St. Bonaventure, along with Duns Scotus. My training in the seminary ignored the Franciscans completely. One of the concepts I want to see in Scotus is his idea of “Haecitas,” which has some interesting modern applications.

        • ColdStanding

          Then there is the sorely neglected work of St. Albertus Magnus.

          Just concentrating on the Doctors of the Church makes an impossible task of getting through. I’ve been trying to discern which one to have as my guide. I am more interested in the practicalities of the encounter with grace, if one can say such a thing, than the exhaustive refutation of doubt, so St. Bonaventure seems like a good fit.

          • hombre111

            St. Thomas Aquinas also has some good things to say about grace.

            • ColdStanding

              Indeed.

          • TheWhiteLilyBlog

            Do you know they are well represented, wonderfully represented, in the divine office, at Matins? The readings are extraordinary! Of course replaced by the constitutions of VII in the new liturgy of the hours.

            • ColdStanding

              Alas, I am not familiar with the breviary (I know it exists, I know what it is used for, I know its general structure, I’ve just not spent any time with it.) I’ve looked at getting a copy to pray. I am aware that the Church Fathers make up the readings, along with Holy Writ.

              Recently I had an unpleasant exchange with my now elderly father about the changes and he announce he was glad they made the changes. Being rather upset, I was unable to counter, but it occurred to me, “What business did you have messing with the books and traditions? Who asked you to do it? and Where are the traditions that you were to have handed on to me? The one’s you’ve given are pretty lame.” Not that he had anything to do with actual confectioning of the changes. He was on the receiving end of my ire because of his strong identification with and approval of the changes.

              He is none to pleased that I am thing so little of his revolutionary activities. There is the fruit of the council. Intergenerational strife, worse, intergenerational indifference.

              • TheWhiteLilyBlog

                I’m so sorry that you–and many others–must bear this sorrow. My traditional pastor reminds us often that our daily crosses are our way to heaven, though. It is very painful. In our parish there are even husband/wife spits on these issues. I’ll remember you at mass tomorrow. I have the privilege (and consolation) of daily traditional mass, here in Chicago.

                • ColdStanding

                  I thank you. I didn’t mean to burden you with my personal worries, but that is what it sounds like on rereading my comment. Sorry.

                  I’d love to spend a week or two at St. John Canitus. Did I spell that right?

                  • TheWhiteLilyBlog

                    St. John Cantius. They don’t have daily trad mass, only a few a week. I get to go to the SSPX priory to hear mass, often with Bishop Bernard Tissier. They have a priory, rather new, at Addison a little east of Harlem. Bishop Tissier is an incredibly reverent celebrant, the hour is just perfect, the whole city is waking all around us, and we are at prayer.

                    You’re allowed to complain about the burden of this struggle among us! I guess you don’t have daily traditional mass, the best medicine. Only a handful of people in the whole world do. I feel so lucky.

      • Paddy

        Was that around when St. Bonaventure had a good basketball team?

        • ColdStanding

          As it turns out, the answer is yes.

    • papagan

      “If you want to read someone who is really out of date, read Thomas Aquinas.”

      If you’re referring to empirical science, I wouldn’t dispute your claim. If you’re referring to ethics or metaphysics, however, I’d say your claim stands in need of revision.

      • hombre111

        If I remember correctly, the Angelic Doctor considered women inferior. His notion of ideogenesis has been refuted by modern psychology. His idea that God is ipsum esse, being itself, comes close to pantheism. His substance/accident thinking, along with the idea of an unchangeable form, cannot account for evolution. But I do love his theology of Grace, and his optimism about human nature, as opposed to Augustinian pessimism.

        • papagan

          I don’t think we’re going to resolve these matters in this sort of forum, but his position that God is Ipsum Esse Subsistens is far from pantheism. Here one must keep in mind the analogia entis, although I recognize that not all recognize the analogy of being. Without the analogy of being, there are serious problems.

          • hombre111

            Excellent point. The person who was making this criticism was a Protestant, and they have trouble with the whole idea of analogy. His God vanishes into transcendence.

    • FreemenRtrue

      check out Taylor Marshall – he has an e-booklet Aquinas in 50 pages. For me it was a good survey.

      • hombre111

        Thanks

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Am I alone in believing that Teilhard de Chardin’s thought was coloured by Henri Bergson, who was such a major influence in French philosophy at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century?

    Bergson saw the mind as an instrument that projected permanent objects onto the experience of constant change. “The intellect, then, is a purely practical faculty, which has evolved for the purposes of action. What it does is to take the ceaseless, living flow of which the universe is composed and to make cuts across it, inserting artificial stops or gaps in what is really a continuous and indivisible process. The effect of these stops or gaps is to produce the impression of a world of apparently solid objects. These have no existence as separate objects in reality; they are, as it were, the design or pattern which our intellects have impressed on reality to serve our purposes.” This is reminiscent of Dedekind’s creation of a new irrational number at every gap in the continuous number line at which there is no existing real number.

    It is an easy step from here to viewing creation as a single, utterly self-consistent act.

    • ColdStanding

      Probably. That doesn’t make you a genius. Perhaps you are eccentric. After all, you are suggesting that Bergson was a major influence in French philosophy.

      I jest.

      Your Bergson quote has him making words but meaning nothing. To accept them is to have the intellect robbed of substance. A magician hides a rabbit in a hat and then fools the audience into thinking it wasn’t there before he pulls it out. A (French?) philosopher dumps out the meaning of things then shouts (triumphantly?) “The vessel is empty!”

      Who jests now?

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        Bergson is suggesting that “objects” are the equivalent of still shots, taken from a motion picture – in effect freezing a moment in time.

        As for being a major influence, even his critics (and they were many) thought him too important to ignore. Chck out Reception in Wiki – It reads like a Who’s Who of 20th century phiosophy – and not only in France and includes, Russell, Moore, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Benda, Adorno & Satre. The list goes on.

        http://tinyurl.com/kwkk5lg

        • ColdStanding

          I suspect that the thinkers of that period were far more influenced by technology (techne) than they realized. What is Bergson’s idealized cognitive model of thinking other than a mapping of photographic processes onto the function of the mind? There are many, Searle if I am not mistaken, who did something similar with computers as models for the mind.

          But it is slight of hand again. The device is modeled upon the familiar, if unconsciously so, experience the soul has of the body, camera from the eye, computer from cognition, and then used to explain how the senses work. The thinker is deceived. He fools himself. It is philosophical sophistication compensating for technological naivety. The sense-aping device is held up as an accusation against the senses and the soul in order to degrade the latter.

          I am so surprised to see these people listed as significant thinkers when their productions are sterile, yet the rich and rewarding work of others is left neglected.

          There is no more grist for the Enlightenment project. One can’t keep grinding the bran hoping for more flour.

          • Michael Paterson-Seymour

            The analogy with cinematography is mine, not Bergson’s.

            As I said earlier, his real model was Dedekind’s rejection of discontinuity in the sequence of real numbers and which is actually counter-intuitive.

            • ColdStanding

              But it is how you have interpreted Bergson, so, how far off the mark is it? Indeed, Dedekind’s counter-model to discontinuity in the sequence of real numbers is still a model. There is no difference between his method of make sense of abstract notions is not different than yours.

  • Michael Lofton

    I remember reading Malachi Martin’s book Hostage to the devil about one priest who became possessed by embracing the views of Theilhard. Interesting that some want to “rehabilitate” him.

    • somebigguy

      Indeed, Michael; that very account of demonic possession and exorcism, entitled “Father Bones and Mister Natch” (Martin’s book, which I’ve read three times, sits on a shelf just above my iMac) was my introduction to de Chardin. I don’t think it was embracing his ideas, exactly, but rather the speculation and doubt that his ideas encouraged that predisposed the priest to demonic obsession.

      And it is interesting that de Chardin (in the eyes of Martin, anyway) seemed to have misgivings about his very own ideas as he neared the end of his life.

      BTW, I encourage everyone to read Martin’s fascinating book.

      • Malachi

        This the same Martin claimed that Popes John XXIII and Paul VI were Freemasons.

        • somebigguy

          If you’re asking, I don’t know.

          • Paddy

            Malachi Martin S.J.?

            • somebigguy

              That’s the guy. Quite controversial. But his book on possession/exorcism (see above) came well recommended by Fr. Tom Euteneuer.

      • FreemenRtrue

        true – have also read it three times and sent copies to all my kids. Malachi Martin was brilliant and his book “Jesuits” nails down the heresy of that order and gives a window into the mind of PF.

  • eddie too

    could chardin have been coming from a fundamental concept that it is mankind’s knowledge and understanding of God that is evolving? I do not know much about him, but could he be interpreted as using evolution in the sense of mankind’s understanding of the divine.

  • eddie too

    chardin appears to be an acquired taste. that does not in and of itself make him poison.

    • Paddy

      Exactly. He’s #3589 in issues of importance to Mother Church.

  • Bernonensis

    SSSHH!!! Don’t mention Teilhard. It may pop into Pope Lio the Great’s head to canonize him.

  • Paddy

    While my thoughts on Teilhard have evolved over the last 50 years, it’s more of an interesting intellectual exercise than one of great doctrinal import. He did help in establishing the marriage of science and Faith where possible, and to separate them when necessary. This helped separate the Church from the creationists and Bible thumpers with whom we now engage in ecumenical dialogue, too often. For that, I’m grateful to Teilhard. In fact, glad handing ignorant folks who think the Earth is 6000 years old is more dangerous to our Faith and to the existence of Life, itself than ruminating about the noosphere. These fundamentalists want a nuclear war to start over Jerusalem to herald the Second Coming. Vestigial heretics like these unwittingly prove much of Teilhard’s evolutionary theories and show that in comparison to the past, the future of the Roman Catholic Church is only beginning to take flight. I’m appreciative of both this writer’s ideas but also am impressed by the thoughtful comments of the brainy folks who kick the theology of Catholic thought around so that it’s FUN.

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